Island Councils (Funding)

Question Time — Scottish Executive — General Questions – in the Scottish Parliament at 11:40 am on 28 June 2007.

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Photo of Mary Scanlon Mary Scanlon Conservative 11:40, 28 June 2007

To ask the Scottish Executive whether it will review the allocation of funding for the three island councils. (S3O-371)

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

The allocation of funding for all councils is kept under constant review. I am always open to suggestions for possible improvements to the distribution formula.

Photo of Mary Scanlon Mary Scanlon Conservative

Given that Shetland Islands Council and Western Isles Council receive respectively £600 and £700 more per head of population than Orkney Islands Council, does the cabinet secretary agree that, rather than just a constant review or a quick glance, we need a root-and-branch review of that historical disparity in local government funding?

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

I assure Mary Scanlon that there will be no quick glances by this Administration. The issues are kept under constant review.

Mary Scanlon correctly identifies the disparity in per capita funding between the £3,118 that Orkney Islands Council receives and the funding that Shetland Islands Council and Western Isles Council receive, which is more than £3,700. There has been an increase in funding for Orkney Islands Council that has reached 5 per cent more than that for Shetland Islands Council and Western Isles Council over the period from 2005 to 2008. Nevertheless, there is still a disparity. As I said in my earlier answer, we are always happy to consider such issues. I expect to visit the Orkney Islands over the summer recess, and I suspect that the issue will be raised with me then.

Photo of Alasdair Allan Alasdair Allan Scottish National Party

In the light of that question and answer, and in the light of the Government's enthusiasm for vertical integration and co-operation between services, does the Government intend to take advantage of the coterminosity of many agencies in the islands to pursue its agenda of reducing clutter in government in Scotland?

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

There is a helpful suggestion in Alasdair Allan's question. There are great advantages in all the island authorities bringing together the ways in which public services are delivered and drawing together the sharing of services and the design of the delivery and management of public services. I have approved an interesting project in Orkney, which involves collaboration on sharing services between Orkney Islands Council and NHS Orkney. I will observe with interest the progress of that initiative, which identifies a number of relevant issues for all the island authorities.

Photo of Liam McArthur Liam McArthur Liberal Democrat

I know from my discussions with the cabinet secretary that he is aware of the great concern that is felt in Orkney about the disparity in per capita funding between the three island authorities, all of which face the same challenges in delivering vital public services across a large number of islands. Will he urge his officials to make early contact with Orkney Islands Council to prepare the ground ahead of his visit to my constituency, so that progress can be made towards a more equitable solution as quickly as possible?

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

I assure Mr McArthur that there is no need to embark on discussions with Orkney Islands Council on the subject, as the chief executive of the local authority spoke to me on Tuesday at a major public service event that was addressed by the First Minister. He spoke to me about this and several other issues, and I look forward to discussing the matter further.

There are no easy answers. The funding arrangements operate according to different formulae, and if we amend different parts of the formulae, there will be consequences in different parts of the country. I assure members that the issue is being actively examined.